Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot, Massachusetts Yours And Mine

I’ve written my thoughts on the 2012-13 season. I’ve opined about the current state of the Massachusetts hockey program. Now there’s nothing left to say but goodbye and thanks. As I first warned back in December, this season is my last writing about the UMass hockey program and with nothing left to write about, then this is the last post. Hanging up the blog is bittersweet. I am looking forward to what awaits; a baby girl due in June, a house on the horizon, the ability to watch TV from October through April, not scrambling to fix typos on my iPhone at Mass Pike rest stops, and losing the distraction of crunching Hockey East power play statistics while at work. But I’ll still miss this. I’m amazed at what a big part of my life Fear The Triangle has become. I’ve somehow trained myself to answer while being addressed as “Fear” or “Mr. Triangle”. I’m even more amazed that Fear The Triangle has become a regular part of the lives of so many others.

I started the blog for therapeutic reasons really. Just a distraction from an unfulfilling, stressful job and a chance to do something creative. As I wrote in my very first post, my hope was that this place would become the spot where UMass hockey fans go for news, insight, and opinion related to the team. Did it ever. Just a couple weeks in I was already averaging about 100 views per day to the blog. I was ecstatic. Who knew so many people wanted to read what I had to say about hockey, a game I’ve never even played. I had no idea just how many people would ultimately look to FTT for everything related to UMass hockey. At its in-season height the blog was averaging 550 views per day from all over the world. Last July, when the fandom was whipped up to a furor over the coaching search, the blog reached an astounding 1,100 views a day. To say this is beyond the expectations I had would be an understatement.

I loved the fact that FTT became a place where fans went to find out what was going on with their team. After all, that’s what I billed this place as. A UMass hockey blog for the fans, by a fan. And I had plenty of fans of all ages, some with season tickets going back to the early triangle jersey era to freshmen just hitting the campus, reach out to me and let me know how much they visited the blog. UMass aficionados of all ages enjoyed the blog to keep up with UMass hockey. But a funny thing happened that I really didn’t anticipate. People other than fans were reading too.

Somewhere along the way I realized that my hardcore readers were split between the loyal fans like myself and the parents of the players. Honestly, initially I never thought parents would enjoy FTT. Everything I wrote was intended for the fan. I wanted to be open and honest about how I felt the team was performing. That definitely included criticisms of players when I thought they weren’t playing well enough. I figured this would turn off parents and they’d ignore the place. But they didn’t, they embraced it and even embraced me. The number of interactions I had with a hockey parent truly angry at something I wrote was probably no more than three times max. At the same time numerous times parents have said they’ve appreciated my honesty and thanked me for keeping them informed on the team. I never anticipated FTT would be a lifeline for parents to follow their sons’ hockey careers. But it was, especially for those from afar who can’t regularly attend games. I was humbled during a midwest road trip in my second year of writing when one of the parents told me FTT was the first website they looked at each morning.

Building off that idea, and not as surprising, is that the players read this blog too. If I thought the parents would hate the blog because of what I was writing then surely the players would detest me. But they didn’t. At least none have mentioned such so far. The players I’ve had the chance to interact with have been appreciative and, well, have shown exactly the type of character we’ve grown accustomed to as UMass fan. In the last week I’ve gotten a number of touching messages of thanks from some of the current players. I’ll also always remember Paul Dainton giving me a wave of thanks as he walked out of his senior night post-game press conference.

The other group that ended up being regular readers that I didn’t expect were others around Hockey East. Opposing fans, other bloggers, and even (legitimate) media were readers of Fear The Triangle. And that has meant a ton to me. Again, this was meant to be a UMass hockey blog, for UMass hockey fans, from the viewpoint of a UMass hockey fan. Was my writing biased towards UMass hockey? I sure as hell hope so. Otherwise I was doing it wrong. Yet opposing fans and fan blogs enjoyed it. And as I wrote more and explored Hockey East on the web more I grew to respect and get to know the other fanbases better than I ever thought I would. I actually like following the Boston College hockey fans on Twitter, have met a few of them, and can say they’re very good people. Just a few short years ago I didn’t think such a thing was possible. As for the media members that read and enjoyed FTT, that is the ultimate compliment that can be bestowed upon me and the site. If the people that are trained to write about sports, who actually know what they’re doing enjoy this place then I must be doing something right.

So those are the different readers that I am so thankful for FTT started for selfish reasons, something I wanted to do for myself. But as the readership grew and grew it helped motivate me to do a better job so I wouldn’t let down the readers. I did what I could to help build an informed UMass hockey fanbase. There were lots of times when I’d come home from a long day of work or wake up on a Sunday morning after pulling into my South Shore home at 2am following the trip back from Amherst and just not want to write about hockey. Especially after a loss. But I did. Because I felt that you, the readers, were depending on me. It bothered me to think of a dedicated UMass fan who was logging onto the site to see what the latest news was surrounding the hockey program only to find it hadn’t been updated in two days. So I kept writing more and more. And people kept reading more and more. And I really started to enjoy it at that point. But a strange thing happened along the way. This blog brought me to places and into situations I never thought I’d experience.

Fear The Triangle allowed me to attend a Hockey East media day at the Legends in TD Bank Garden where I got to witness the organized chaos of the event first hand. For a couple seasons I was able to attend post game press conferences in the Mullins Center, rubbing shoulders with other college hockey writers who I have tremendous respect for. In something I never ever thought in my life I’d do, I actually attended a press conference at Fenway Park as a member of the media. What an amazing thrill that was, despite the fact that it was in the 90s that day they announced the Frozen Fenway games. I at least fared better than Bananas, the Maine mascot, who was overtaken by the heat. Lastly for a season FTT allowed me to be a NESN Correspondent, calling in my report from the Mullins Center to the weekly Hockey East Live show that preceded their game broadcasts. I am not comfortable with public speaking and every reasonable part of me screamed not to do it. But I did it anyway because when else is a boring financial analyst going to get the chance to talk about the sport he loves on NESN on a regular basis? It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but worth every ounce of adrenaline it ultimately burned.

Yep, this place allowed me to do things I never though possible. But it wasn’t without some help along the way. I have a lot of people to thank. I’ll start off with the people who have to deal with me all the time. My friends in Section U. Thanks for your insight and your support. For those who credit me for my devotion to UMass hockey, the others in Section U are just as knowledgeable, just as loyal, they just don’t happen to write a blog about it. Thanks to the other fans I’ve gotten to know along the way. I’ve slowly worn the triangle less and less over the years but that hasn’t stopped people from stopping me in the concourse or from coming over to Section U in between periods to talk. It’s been great to get to know so many of you and quite honestly great to talk UMass hockey with so many devoted fans.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know so many student fans as well. It’s been good becoming friends with the boys from Fight Mass. They’re loud. They’re obnoxious. But they’re our loud, obnoxious fans. And their deep love to UMass and its teams cannot be questioned. The fact that they enjoy good beer didn’t hurt forming a bond either. Thanks to the two flag guys, Ben and Adam, for their support and friendship as well. Those two have been in some pretty uncomfortable situations trying to get the UMass flag into opposing arenas. But they’ve remained faithful to the flag no matter how many cavity searches they’ve had to endure. For that work they’ve created a true tradition for UMass hockey, one that next year will be handed down to Greg, another regular FTT reader. The last student group I want to recognize is the Bench Crew, a group of avid female fans who sit (you guessed it) behind the bench every game. These aren’t some flighty girls watching the games just to check out how hot the players are though (though I assume they probably do that too), these girls know their hockey. And they are the ones you can thank for the whole Free Moore campaign to get Kevin Moore to play in last year’s senior night. Not only were they successful, they got the #freemoore hashtag trending on Twitter and mentioned by NHL stars. That was damn impressive.

I want to thank people affiliated with the hockey program. UMass Sports Information Director John Sinnett was extremely gracious towards me, treating me much as if I was a media member and allowing me access to the postgame press conferences and practices. As a blogger that wasn’t something I expected but he was very accommodating and I appreciate that. When he moved up to his current job last year, Jillian Jakuba took his place covering hockey and has been equally friendly and accommodating and I’ve enjoyed watching her put her fingerprint on UMass media relations. There are other people affiliated with the department like Todd MacDonald and Matty G who I’ve enjoyed getting to know. I’d also like to thank Associate Athletic Director Rocko DeLuca who has always been open and friendly with me, even when I’ve been writing posts directly challenging the athletic department. Of course I want to thank coach Micheletto for the few times I’ve been been able to speak with him. The first time I met him was shortly after he was hired, when I had just been pretty critical of the coaching search process and my friends nearby joked that I probably was now seen as an enemy of the athletic department. I’ll never forget that Mick told me that “Sometimes you have to wear the black hat”. It was a great observations that I think of regularly. Maybe too much? Lastly I have to thank former coach Toot Cahoon for all his support. After my first season of writing FTT I honestly didn’t even know if he was aware that the blog existed. And then surprisingly at the post season golf tournament that June he recognized me for my hard work in front of everyone. He was always so friendly and so supportive no matter what I wrote. I think he was just happy that someone was putting a deserved spotlight on the program and it didn’t bother him in the least if at the same time I was sometimes critical of how he was doing. You can question Toot’s coaching, but you cannot question his character. There are very few better people that I’ve met in my life and though he started a Terrier, he’ll always be a Minuteman in my eyes.

Thanks to all the fellow bloggers and media people I’ve had the opportunity to get to know over the years. It starts with Matt Vautour and Dick Baker who have done a great job covering the team since pretty much forever. I used to read Matty’s work in the Collegian when I myself was a student and it’s been great to get to know him over the years. I’ve seen him get criticized for not covering hockey enough, but that’s really unfair. Not only is he very knowledgeable about the sport, but please realize that he’s busy covering ALL of the UMass sports. All of them. And he covers them all well. Dick Baker on the other hand is all hockey. But he’s been covering the sport forever and knows more about the history of hockey in Western Mass than anyone I’ve met, from Eddie Shore to Thomas Pöck. Thanks to both of those guys and while I haven’t met him, Harry Plumer has also done a good job covering the team since he jumped into the role. So many others I want to recognize. The Collegian has had some excellent people covering hockey, including the guys doing it now. But my recent favorites were Jeff Howe, now the Patriots reporter for the Herald, and Joe Meloni. Joe’s a great hockey writer and someone who has been very supportive of the blog. And I’m pretty sure that’s not just because I once gave him a ride to Yale. Mike McMahon in my opinion is probably the best writer in Hockey East and I read his Mack Report blog a few times a day. If something is going on in the conference, he knows about it. And he also has been a big supporter of FTT. Thanks to all the other media guys out there. Josh Seguin and (another former Collegian writer) Michael King at College Hockey News. Scott McLaughlin is someone I’ve never met but whose work I respect a lot. Joshua Kummins is a writer in training, just a high schooler who does great work and will be covering sports soon enough for his college paper. Thanks to all the other bloggers I’ve interacted with. There’s a lot of good ones out there like the folks at BC Interruption, Husky Hockey News, BC Hockey Blog, BU Hockey Blog, Ice is Life. There’s a lot out there to read if you’re into Hockey East and a lot of them are just as dedicated as what you’re accustomed to here. Thanks to Bob McGovern and Marc Bertrand. They’ve previously mentioned that FTT helped inspire them to create the spectacular UMass football blog Maroon Musket, which in my opinion is superior to Fear The Triangle in every way shape or form. But if what I did helped create that, I’m happy. Selfishly happy since I love reading their coverage of the football team which is entirely top notch. Lastly I want to thank my good friend Jim Clark, High School Sports Editor for the Herald. As a member of the legitimate media he relayed a lot of good pointers for the blog, even when he probably didn’t realize when he was actually relaying them. And he was my de facto, and much needed, copy editor, catching the stupidest of mistakes before the general public had ever clicked on the story.

I have to separately thank the UMass hockey broadcast media. Donnie Moorhouse is who I remember providing the play by play of some of the best moments of UMass hockey. He’s been a great supporter of FTT and has a tremendous knowledge of the sport. I enjoyed getting to know John Hennessey when he was working for UMass hockey, especially some of his stories. I always get complimented for my dedication to UMass hockey for driving from the South Shore to Amherst for games. John drove from New Jersey to Amherst for every game and if it was an away game he’d then climb on a bus for another however many hours. That’s dedication. I’ve really enjoyed Adam Frenier’s addition to the broadcast team and think he’s done great on color this season. A few weeks ago, after I announced FTT was shutting down, he said he was “sorry to hear we’re losing you”. I replied, “Losing me? You’re gaining me. I’m going to depend on you guys to follow the team”. Just as FTT was a written lifeline for fans to follow the team, the radio broadcasts are a godsend for those trying to follow the games. But they’re only as good as the broadcasters and I think we as UMass fans have been blessed with some damn good ones. Which leads me to Brock Hines. Because I write this blog and have been following this team since 1993 I’ve gotten this reputation as the UMass hockey expert. Wrong. When I want to know something about UMass hockey, I go to Brock. He has only missed a handful of games in the last twenty seasons. Players come and go, coaches come and go, his broadcast partners come and go, but Brock is still there every weekend during the winter talking UMass hockey. There are few people who have been more supportive of FTT than Brock and for that I am extremely thankful. I’m also glad that the Hockey East media day I attended in 2010 was the one where he won the Joe Concannon Media Award for the league and I got to witness it firsthand. Honestly, what took them so long?

With the blog becoming popular with the hockey parents as a result I got to know them. And honestly, I have a lot of respect for the life of a DI college hockey parent. They live and die with their kids’ performance. I thought I take losses hard? Try talking to a goaltender’s mom just after they let up an overtime goal. They drive unimaginable distances just to find their son is a healthy scratch. Honestly I’m glad that FTT served a purpose for them to follow the team and their sons. And, on a selfish level, I’m glad I got to know so many of them. They are hardcore fans. Sometimes their priorities are a little different than the typical fan, but they are all in for UMass. And they’re fun. In the four years I wrote FTT I had the pleasure of ringing in the New Year with UMass hockey parents twice. Once in a hotel bar in Madison, Wisconsin and the other in a Hanover, New Hampshire hotel room turned bar. Hockey parents are great to be arounde and I thank them for including me in their circle and for their support, even if I may have said their son sucked at some point in time.

The last thank you is to you, the Fear The Triangle readers. If I didn’t have any readers, I wouldn’t have had any motivation to make this place better. You folks drove extended recruiting coverage, the View From Section U columns, better previews, more in depth recaps. I put out a product, people started reading, I responded by improving it, and even more people started reading. I kept working hard for the blog and the readers responded. And it motivated me. And I thank you for that. I also thank those of you who regularly interacted on FTT. I am by no means an expert on hockey or UMass hockey. My opinions on how the team was performing or where the program stood are just that, opinions. I hope I never came across like an expert, because I’m not. And because of that I was always eager to know what others thought. Thanks to those who shared their thoughts through the comments. There were a lot of you. A lot commented anonymously, but there were some, like George, Will, my good friend Angry Mel, the next Red Berenson Justin, Carson, and Gregg, who regularly put their names to their comments who I would like to recognized. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This was a UMass hockey fan blog for the fans, by the fans and your interaction, as fans, was a great part of it.

Lastly, I have to thank my wife. She has always been extremely supportive of not only the blog, but my obsession with UMass hockey. How long has it been since UMass missed the playoffs? I realized the other day the last time UMass had a senior night without a playoff game to follow was a game against Merrimack in 2002. That was the third date for my now wife and I. I talked her into going to UMass hockey for a date. Since the team was bad, we sat in a nearly empty Section W where she nearly got concussed by a puck flying into the stands. As the puck was heading for her forehead I was just able to reach out and deflect it away with my fingertip. The rest is history. We went to almost all the games the next year as we continued our relationship and have had season tickets ever since. UMass hockey has been a big part of our relationship and despite all the time I’ve spent in recent years in front of the computer she’s always encouraged me with my hobby in addition to being a loyal reader.

That’s about it. I’ve said what I wanted to say. Recognized who I wanted to recognize. And thanked who I’ve wanted to thank (although there are some I likely missed). For me it’s time to move on to a new part of my life. Gone are the long nights writing, crunching stats, or figuring out who the third leading scorer on Northeastern is. Those nights will be replaced with changing diapers, mowing lawns, and dedicating myself to raising the Commonwealth’s newest Minuteman fan properly (odds on the baby’s first words being “BC sucks” are 50/50). I’ll still get to games when I can. I’ll be sure to watch or listen to every game, that’s for sure. And if you still want to know what I have to say on the team (and beer snob beers), then follow the Fear The Triangle Twitter account, because I plan to keep that going strong. In a few years down the road you’ll see me in he Mullins Center with a maroon clad toddler in tow. But FTT is going away. Could I find some unforeseen time in the future to bring it back? Perhaps. But I wouldn’t count on it.

So I hope you have enjoyed the last four years. I did. Sorry I couldn’t write about more jovial times for UMass hockey. The four years I decide to devote my free time to the UMass hockey team they end up going 40-78-14. Damn, what can you do. But it’s taken me even closer to the team. I probably know these senior and junior classes as well as I know the successful 2007, 2004, and 2003 teams. I feel I have a much better understanding of the peaks and deep, deep valleys of the program recently. So while the Thomas Pöcks and Jon Quicks should be honored, let’s not forget all the others who pull on the UMass sweater, adorned in triangle or not. For every Greg Mauldin there’s a T.J. Syner. For a Matt Anderson there’s an Eddie Olczyk.

If you ever decided to start a blog, write about something you love and spending time on it will rarely seem like a chore. Even if you’re writing about a team with a losing record. I love UMass hockey so that’s why you got Fear The Triangle. I hope I helped you follow the team. I hope I provided insight to what was going on with the program. I hope I enlightened you. I hope you disagreed with me. I hope you thought I was supportive of the team when they deserved praise. I hope you feel I demanded better of the team when they were under performing. I hope I’ve brought attention to the program externally and internally and I hope those in positions of power at the University of Massachusetts will realize the potential of the program and help it reach the pinnacle of college hockey. I hope I’ve upset some people and made their lives harder if it ends up benefitting the program. I hope I’ve done a good job recognizing and honoring the tremendous sacrifice that is made by every student-athlete who pulls on the maroon and white sweater each season. Getting through college is tough. Doing it with the demands that are required to be a NCAA hockey player should be applauded. Regularly. I hope the blog helped develop some hardcore UMass hockey fans. Honestly if I had a hand in creating just one or two more loyal Massachusetts Minuteman hockey fans it’ll all have been worth it.

With fierce loyalty, Massachusetts we cheer for thee. Go UMass!

Mark F. Coogan ‘98 ‘06MBA
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View From Section U: State of UMass Hockey

Yesterday in my Season Recap post I talked about how I thought the season that just was ended in disappointment versus the reasonable expectations going into the year.  I expressed that the talent level of the team was too good to be missing the Hockey East playoffs entirely, something that had not happened in over a decade.  I think the players can take some of the blame for that for not getting the job done and not playing as well as they needed to.  But as I wrote, I thought the coaching could’ve been much better as well.  And I stand by that opinion and think it’s a fair assessment.  But I want to point out that a disappointing first year for a rookie head coach at a new school is not a reason to panic.

I am not going to try to conclude whether last summer’s decision to hire coach Micheletto to lead the Massachusetts hockey program was a good or bad one because it’s way, way too early to know.  Next year at this time will still be too early to know.  By the end of Year 3 we should have a gauge of whether the program is at least heading in the right direction.  And by the end of Year 4 the team should be successful or it’s time to start thinking about the next person to lead UMass hockey.  But Year 1 does not make or break a new coach, no matter the result.

Sometimes coaches can jump into a program, take the talent that’s already there, tweak it, motivate the players, and win right away.  Obviously we saw this last year with Norm Bazin at Lowell and, especially when you add in this year, Nate Leaman at Providence.  Andy Murray out at Western Michigan did the same thing last year, though in that case I credit the magical elixir found in Kalamazoo that is Bells beer.  I think we all hoped that Micheletto would be able to do the same to a UMass team that was returning 7 of its top 10 scorers, a solid core of defenseman, and two somewhat experienced goaltenders.  But, it didn’t happen.  And it doesn’t always happen.  Plenty of successful coaches have needed a few years to get their program in order.  A bit of an extreme example but Mark Dennehy didn’t get Merrimack to a winning record until Year 6.

So now we have to start thinking more long term.  Micheletto seems focused on getting his type of players into Amherst so he can work to his style.  I think that’s what’s driving all the Toot Cahoon recruits getting pushed potentially to 2014 and 2015 and Mick’s recruits coming in in the next couple years.  He wants his players so he can play his style.  That’s fine, it’s his program and he’ll try to make it successful as he sees fit.  It’s not easy, especially given so many recent years without a winning season, but UMass fans will have to be patient for the next year or two while he remolds UMass hockey to his vision.  I think it’s natural to get frustrated and critical from game to game when the team isn’t playing as well as you’d like them to.  But at the same time it is important to let this staff get the chance to put their fingerprint on the program.  If the team is still in 9th at the end of the 2014-2015 season then we can start to wonder if Micheletto is right for the program.

Now, having a successful hockey program isn’t all about Xs and Os.  To win you need top recruits.  To get top recruits you need quality facilities and the backing of your athletic department.  Support of UMass hockey within the athletic department is a topic that’s been talked about quite a bit recently, going back to last summer when it was reported to be the source of disagreement that led Toot Cahoon and the school to part ways.  UMass fans travelling to watch their team play have seen lots of new construction and upgrades at the other arenas in Hockey East in recent years.  At the same time Athletic Director John McCutcheon continues to be conspicuously absent from any and all activities having to do with the hockey team.  Whether that be games, meet and greets, fundraising events, or even senior ceremonies.

Now I was lucky enough recently to get to speak to both coach Micheletto and Associate Athletic Director Rocko DeLuca about the program recently.  The subject of support of the program and UMass hockey facilities came up in the conversation.  Unequivocally Micheletto told me that he thinks the facilities at UMass, from the arena to locker rooms to video equipment to training and weight room, are on par with the rest of the conference and he has everything he needs to be successful in Hockey East in due time.  Now I’ll be honest, this is not an opinion necessarily shared by others I’ve spoken to around UMass and the rest of Hockey East.  However if the coach says he has all the tools in place needed to attract recruits and win in this conference, I have to take him at his word.  He knows how to build a program better than me and I don’t see how it would serve his interests to tell supporters/boosters he has what he needs when he really doesn’t.

So ultimately, if the coaching staff has what they need to land skilled recruits and aren’t worried about upgrades happening in Lowell, Providence, and Merrimack, then it will come down to coaching.  So far on the recruiting front I think there’s a lot to be encouraged about, but at the same time I’ve been following college hockey enough to know not to get too excited until the recruits are actually on campus and skating.  Whether Micheletto’s grand plans to get UMass hockey back to winning and hopefully competing for a Hockey East championship will come to fruition, we don’t know.  Honestly, with the season that just transpired I don’t think we know any more if he’s the right man to do the job today than when he was hired last July.  But that’s ok, he needs some time and I think fans should give it to him.

So those are my thoughts on coaching.  I will say this however, if Micheletto ends up being successful and brings the program up the ranks of Hockey East, I still think there’s an artificial ceiling as to how high he’ll be able to elevate it.  He could be excellent at the Xs and Os and a shrewd recruiter, but I still believe the program will never reach its full potential as its currently positioned.  That has nothing to do with Mick’s coaching abilities or facilities for the players.  It has everything to do with an Athletic Director who continues to show little interest in the program on campus that is most popular with the students, has regularly been the best attended, and has a much better shot at winning a national championship than men’s basketball or football ever will.  I don’t say that to knock either one of those two programs, which I support fully and think both are heading in positive directions.  It’s just the truth of the matter.  Hockey East is THE best league in all of NCAA hockey and UMass is lucky enough to be a member of it.  You can’t say that about any other sports on campus.

I’m always amazed that McCutcheon cut his teeth at places like Boston College and Maine and then becomes the head of the UMass athletic program mere days before the hockey program makes its debut in the Hockey East Championship game and then proceeds to ignore said program.  But that is exactly what he’s done.  And I honestly have no idea why.  But it’s blatant.  I’m not going to say he’s actively working against the program, but he doesn’t have to.  He’s just no where to be found.  I’ve been a Pond Club member for six or seven years and I’ve not once seen him in the Massachusetts Room in between periods.  He has only intermittently attended the Reverse Raffle during that same time.  At last year’s Pond Club Golf Outing, with the program’s most hardcore supporters in attendance, he spent all of five minutes there to say a few words and then was whisked off.  In December Mick had a meet and greet at ABC which was surprisingly well attended by loyal fans despite coming minutes after a weekend sweep at the hands of Colgate.  Despite the fact that it was probably the last thing he wanted to do given how the weekend turned out, Mick did his thing and made his way around to talk to all those who showed up.  Was McCutcheon there to support his rookie head coach?  Of course not.  Was he at ABC days later for a basketball event?  You betcha.  If you’re a big time supporter of basketball and football, especially the ones with big time pockets, McCutcheon probably already knows who you are.  If you’re reading this blog because you love UMass hockey, McCutcheon doesn’t care about you.  When pressed he’ll give lip service to his commitment to hockey blah blah blah, but actions are louder than words and he has a long established history of inaction.  I wish I could share the many other examples of his disregard for the program that I’ve witnessed or others have told me, but I frankly do not have the time nor do I want to betray the trust of other program supporters.

The last thing I wanted to do was to make one of my last posts on FTT be so negative in tone but the program is in a major state of uncertainty right now and I can’t change that.   Personally I’m willing to give coach Micheletto the benefit of the doubt for this past season and support him during the coming years, he deserves that.  And I hope UMass fans will do the same.  But at the same time, feel free to do what you can to pressure McCutcheon.  Now whether you want to pressure him to recognize the tremendous potential of the hockey program and that he should adequately support it or if you want to just pressure him to get the hell off campus and into a job where he doesn’t have to worry about frozen water, that’s your decision.  Personally, I feel like I’ve already done what I can in regards to the first option, leveraging the little influence I may have with this blog (as I am sadly lacking of the big time pockets I mentioned earlier).  I personally haven’t seen any progress.  So I’m ready to do what I can to send John McCutcheon away from the harsh winters of Western Massachusetts where the cold temperatures freeze the water and people sometimes decide to play sports on the resulting ice that is formed.  As far as I can tell, those below freezing conditions do not suit him.  So maybe there’s a better place for him to be.  Maybe somewhere a little warmer where the pond in the middle of campus doesn’t ice over every winter, bringing back memories of a time when the varsity hockey team once played their games upon it.  Someplace where there’s not an underrated hockey hotbed of Springfield down the road filled with kids playing peewee whose parents drive them up to games at Your State U, dreaming of maybe coming through the smoke onto the ice at the Mullins Center one day.  Maybe he’d rather spend his time making sure the varsity sailing team has adequate rigging or that the sand on the beach volleyball court is properly raked.  Wherever it is, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the good of all involved, John McCutcheon should be somewhere other than Amherst, home of the Massachusetts Minutemen hockey team.

2012-13 Season Recap

When the Massachusetts hockey season started on October 12th I was just happy to be able to think about hockey.  After a tumultuous offseason it was great to finally see the team on the ice and stop worrying about everything that preceded.  But while the season had some nice highs and achievements I think it’s safe to say that as a whole it was a disappointment.  While I don’t think anyone expected this team to compete for home ice in the conference or even make a run at an NCAA berth, it was a pretty veteran club that didn’t lose a ton from the year before.  I think it was a reasonable expectation that the team would at least match the results of the year before when they finished 8th in the league or even improve somewhat as the talented sophomore class became juniors and goaltenders Kevin Boyle and Stephen Mastalerz had a year experience under their belt.  But that didn’t happen.  Instead the team had less wins than last year and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02, the year before they made their first visit to the Garden.  As many know, UMass hockey fans don’t have a lot of success or tradition to embrace, but it was sad to see that playoff streak end.  Especially since next year with the addition of Notre Dame all teams will be part of the playoffs in true “everybody gets a participation trophy” form.

By The Numbers

If you’ve read this blog for four months or four years you know that I enjoy crunching numbers.  So I want to start with that as they may help add context to what follows.  UMass was 12-19-3 this year, 9-16-2 in Hockey East, finishing 9th with 20 points.  Last year they had one extra win on the season at 13-18-5, and did slightly better in Hockey East with a 9-14-4 record finishing tied for 8th with 22 points.  The team’s schedule strength was ranked slightly higher than average, 24th, according to the RPI model.  However for much of the early part of the season UMass had one of the hardest schedules in the country.

Though coach Micheletto talked about implementing an up tempo style, and in watching the team this did seem to be the case, scoring was actually down dramatically from last year.  This season the Minutemen scored 2.74 goals per game, good for 6th in the conference.  Last year they scored nearly a half a goal more at 3.17, which was 5th.  What’s interesting is shots on goal increased from 30.9 to 32.0 this year, but scoring decreased.  The power play was up very slightly converting at 18.5% versus 18.2% last year.  However relative to the rest of the league this was a big improvement as the team had the 3rd best power play versus 6th best last year.

Defensively the team improved from allowing 3.28 goal last year, 9th in the league, to 3.00 even, tied with Northeastern for 8th.  On the penalty kill is where UMass made maybe their best improvement, from killing 76.1% of chances last year to 82.9% this year.  That allowed the Minutemen to jump from the 9th best kill last year to 6th best this season.  Honestly, there were times where the PK absolutely carried this team and I think the staff and players deserve a lot of credit for turning the PK into a true asset this year.  The last time UMass had a penalty kill above 80% was 2008-09.  It also didn’t hurt that UMass reduced their penalties in minutes per game to 12.9, 3rd best in the league, from over 14 minutes where they had been in recent years.

The Season

If you’re going to put together an ideal schedule for a new coaching staff who, due to circumstances out of their control, got a late start and had to acclimate a veteran group of players while getting used to new facilities and support staff, the 2012-13 UMass schedule probably wasn’t it.  It started well enough with a 4-1 over what has ended up being a pretty decent UConn team.  But after that it was just an unfair gauntlet that coach Micheletto had to face.  From the opener until the traditional Turkey Tuesday Tilt against Vermont UMass would have to play Boston College, Boston University, BU again, New Hampshire, BC again, Providence, Maine, and Lowell.  The team actually had a good showing against those teams going 3-5-1 including the game against UVM.  That included an overtime loss against BC, handing UNH their first loss of the season, and a dominating 4-0 win over Providence.

On Thanksgiving the team was a respectable 4-5-1 despite the tough schedule.  That weekend they would tie a Quinnipiac team who, unbeknownst to us then, was early into a streak that saw them go 21 games without losing and eventually afford them the top ranking in the country.  After that game though UMass started to really struggle.  They split a series with Northeastern and got shutout by Chris Rawlings at home in the process.  The next weekend was one of the worst of the season, getting completely dominated at home by Colgate, a team that would finish second to last in the ECAC.  A final lackluster effort at Yale would bring to close the first half of the season with the Minutemen compiling a 5-9-2 record and finishing on a 1-4-1 stretch.

Winter break seemed to rejuvenate the team though as they beat Bemidji State and host Dartmouth to capture the Ledyard Classic Championship on New Year’s Eve.  The win marked just the second time UMass had won an in-season tournament, the other being the 2007 Lightning College Classic.  Dartmouth was one of the hottest teams in the country at that time, ranked #8 in the country and having only two losses to their name at that point.  This was also when it was apparent that Branden Gracel was having a very special season.

But, the team would jump back into Hockey East play in January and would pretty much be Jeckyll and Hyde for the entire month.  They followed up their huge tournament championship by getting swept in a home and home by Providence, with a jetlagged Jon Gilles getting both wins including a shutout on the Saturday despite just returning from his time overseas at the World Junior Championships.  The team would follow up that disappointing weekend by beating #2 Boston College at Chestnut Hill for the first time since 2007.  UMass desperately needed to find a way to sweep a struggling Vermont team in Burlington if they wanted to remain in the battle for home ice.  The Catamounts came into the weekend on a four game losing streak and had just lost 4-2 to a Penn State program in their first year as a DI hockey program.  The Minutemen would take the first game but Vermont would battle back to split the weekend series and a frustrating January ended that way.

Februarys have not been kind to Massachusetts hockey but the month started out well this year with a 5-1 win over #11 BU.  After that the shortest, but cruelest month returned to form and UMass would drop a game to Merrimack, get swept in a home and home by Lowell, and even lose a midweek makeup game to Northeastern, twice giving up leads.  The team was now 9-16-3 and quickly fading from the Hockey East playoff picture.  They had a chance to get a big leg up on Maine though with the Black Bears coming into Amherst for two games.  But they could only manage a split and Maine remained well within reach of the final playoff spot.  In the final two weekends UMass would need some serious points in their consecutive weekend series against UNH and Merrimack but could manage just three.  Maine on the other hand did not lose in their final four games, picking up six points, and securing 8th place with a game to spare.  In the end the Minutemen could muster up one last charge, if only for pride and a chance to send the seniors off with a win, and dominate Merrimack in a 3-0 win to close out the 2012-13 season.

The Players

A few thoughts on each player’s performance this season, alphabetically:

Conor Allen
I thought Allen was consistently one of the best UMass players on the ice this season and even one of the better defenseman in the conference.  Defensively, he was easily the best player for UMass.  He more than doubled his blocked shots from last year from 24 to a team high 57.  He doubled his assists from last year, from 7 to 14, and added 5 goals of his own.  Looking ahead to next year people are going to talk a lot about Mike Pereira and Branden Gracel returning, but Allen is just as important to next year’s squad as those two.

Emerson Auvenshine
Auvenshine had the bad luck of suffering a concussion in this year’s exhibition game that prevented him from playing early on in the season.  He did end up coming back to play in one game in February, but that was it for him.  It’s unknown how much of him not playing was injury and how much was coach’s decision.  Safe to say his place on the team next year is a question mark.

Kevin Boyle
Boyle played roughly the same amount of time as he did his freshman year and with roughly the same results.  He did lower his GAA from 3.00 to 2.73 but his wins (8) were identical and save percentage (.897) nearly the same.  He was definitely the go to goaltender for the first half of the season, some of that due to Steve Mastalerz being injured, but played intermittently from January on with mixed results.  Though he did have probably his best game during that time, a 37 save loss at Merrimack.  If UMass wants to improve next year the team will need one of the goaltenders to step up significantly.  Like he did last year, Boyle will have his chance to grab the starting spot.

Mike Busillo
Busillo played a lot like he did in limited action last year.  Probably a little smarter.  He’s not the type who is going to wow you with his play.  He’s not really athletically gifted so he instead has to use his head and make sure he’s in the right position.  And I thought he did that regularly and considered him one of the top six defensemen on the team.  Unfortunately the coaching staff did not and regularly substituted others in his place.  I thought this was a mistake.  Busillo ends the year with the highest plus/minus for UMass defensemen and third best on the team with +5.  He had a respectable 26 blocked shots in only 20 games played.  And most importantly the team was 10-8-2 when he dressed and just 2-11-1 when he didn’t.  Those numbers are striking.  Without a doubt I think Busillo should play every game next season.  Will he?  Who knows.

Rocco Carzo
I’ve already written a lot about Rocco in my Senior post as well as my Awards post, so there’s not a lot more to say.  Flat out, Carzo gave the team quality two-way play consistently throughout the season.  His nine goals equaled the amount he scored in the three prior years combined.  Three of the goals came on the power play where he saw extensive time.  He scored on 12% of his shots.  His performance definitely exceeded my expectations going into the season.

Kevin Czepiel
”Holyoke” played hard and played a grinder type role well, just as he has for the prior three seasons.  His eight points were a career high and he had some key assists during the season against tough opponents.  His 14 blocked shots were more than he had in the prior three seasons combined.  Czepiel delivered exactly the type of performance that was needed from him this season.

Peter DeAngelo
DeAngelo had a strange season.  Basically the odd man out among forwards, he played just six games in the first half of the season after playing 23 total the year before.  But halfway through the season he made the transition to defense, not something you usually see from a 5’7” player mid-season.  To his credit he didn’t look totally out of place back there.  It was definitely apparent at times that he was still learning the position and he did have some breakdowns, but at the same time I wouldn’t say he was a liability out there.  With an offseason where he can continue to work on the blueline, it’ll be interesting to see what he’s able to do in his new position next year.

Eric Filiou
Filiou was a regular player in the first half of the season but was injured during midseason.  He came back for a couple games at Vermont but then was reportedly a healthy scratch for the balance of the season.  Filiou would end with just a goal and assist in 16 games, down from 2 goals and 5 assists the year before.  It’s unknown what kind of role he may play in his senior year.

Branden Gracel
It’s safe to say Gracel was the team’s MVP this year.  The numbers speak for themselves.  He led the team in goals (14), assists (20), plus/minus (+7), game winning goals (3), and shots (104). His total points were 6th best among Hockey East players and he was 9th in goal scoring. His 59.5% faceoff winning percentage was technically second in the conference behind UNH’s John Henrion, Gracel was at the dot 682 times compared to Henrion’s 153. Gracel’s 406 faceoff wins was 10th best in the country.  Gracel’s season was spectacular and sets him up for a big senior year.

Stephen Guzzo
Guzzo had a bit of a sophomore slump.  After scoring 10 goals to go with 10 assists in his redshirt freshman year, he managed just 5 goals and 9 assists this past season.  He did not score a goal at all in the last 11 games he played.  One bright spot was that he did improve on already good faceoff numbers, winning 53.9% of chances.  But overall fans will hope to see him rebound offensively next year.

Joel Hanley
I think at the end of last season or at the beginning of this one I predicted that Hanley was on the verge of being an All-Conference defenseman.  That didn’t happen.  Hanley’s play was one of the major disappointments on the season for me.  Defensively he did not look as sharp as past years.  His production was down, scoring two less goals than last year and registering nine less points.  And he uncharacteristically took some really bad penalties, getting two misconducts on the year.  I’m not sure if he is having problems adjusting to a new style of play or what, but it’d be great to see him return to the level of play seen in his sophomore year.

Patrick Kiley
Kiley really started to play some good, smart hockey in the second half of the 2011-12 season and by the end of the year was a key player on the team.  But despite playing more games this past season, he never really looked comfortable out on the ice and wasn’t nearly as much of a presence this past year.  His offensive output was cut to just one goal and three assists after scoring four goals to go with four assists last year.  His plus/minus dropped from +2 to –6 as well.  It’d be good to see him return to form as an agitator with some offense next year.

Zack LaRue
LaRue didn’t do much his freshman year with just a single assist on the season and it looked like it was going to be the same after sitting much of the first half of this season.  But he scored his first goal of his career, a game winner, against Bemidji State in the Ledyard Classic and contributed regularly after that.  He would score another big goal against Maine later in the season and finish the season with seven total points.  He showed good year over year improvement that hopefully continues into next season.

Steve Mastalerz
Though his four wins were the same as his freshman year, Mastalerz probably improved his game more from his first year of play than Boyle did.  However, he probably was a little behind Boyle coming into the season in the first place.  His GAA dropped from 3.37 to 2.96 and his save percentage rose to .898.  He fought some nagging injuries through much of the season but looked pretty healthy in the last two weekends when he played his best hockey of the year.  He and Boyle will battle it out again next year and we’ll see if either one grabs the starter job in net.

Eddie Olczyk
Olczyk was not an everyday player for the previous two years but he was this season and I think the team was better for it.  His smart play contributed to the defensive improvement by the team since last year mentioned earlier.  He had the most blocked shots (22) of any non-defensemen on the team.  He also had some very key goals on the year, especially the shortie against Dartmouth where he was part of the Ledyard All-Tournament Team.  I personally really enjoyed watching how much his play improved this year.

Mike Pereira
Pereira’s offensive output was down from last year tallying 13 goals and 13 assists after 17 and 17 of each last year.  He was expected to have much higher numbers and lead the team offensively and that didn’t happen.  The good news is he put up much better numbers in the second half of the season than the first half and was playing his best hockey right up until he suffered a concussion in the second to last weekend.  Another positive is that Pereira made great strides in becoming a better all-around player.  In the second half of last season you could see him start to improve defensively and his play on that end was noticeably better all this year as well.  This was part of the reason his plus/minus actually increased from +4 to +5 despite scoring less than last year.

Adam Phillips
While DeAngelo was making the transition from forward to defenseman, Phillips was doing the opposite playing forward for the first time since juniors.  It worked for him.  Phillips rebounded from a very disappointing sophomore season and had six goals to go with seven assists.  He had three multi-point nights on the season including a one goal, three assist effort in a loss to Colgate.  It’ll be interesting to see just how he fits into the offensive picture next year as he could play a variety of roles.

Troy Power
Power was looking good playing on the top two lines to start the season and had put up two goals and four assists in 11 games when he hurt his leg at the end of November.  He’ll apply for a medical redshirt to try to get this season back.

Anthony Raiola
Raiola played 12 games on the season after appearing in just 4 last year.  Overall he seemed to fill in nicely when called upon.  He may not necessarily be an everyday starter next year but will likely see time on the ice since he rarely looks out of place.

Darren Rowe
As I mentioned in my Senior post, no one likely benefitted more from the coaching change than Rowe.  Under Toot Cahoon it didn’t look like Rowe was going to play much in his senior year.  But being a smaller, quicker offensive minded defenseman is very much what Micheletto’s style calls for and so Rowe was given a chance and he made the most of it.  His 6 goals and 10 assists were career highs.  He had one of the biggest goals on the season, the overtime winner against UNH last fall.  He still struggled defensively as his –18 plus/minus was the worst on the team.  But when he had it going offensively the team seemed to succeed.

Colin Shea
Shea’s play this season seemed a bit erratic.  Some nights he looked good, others not so much.  Defensively he seemed to struggle as he went from a +3 last year to –6 this year.  However his 46 blocked shots were a big improvement and second best on the team.  Offensively he was about the same as the prior year with 3 goals and 10 assists.  But overall he just didn’t seem quite as sharp as his sophomore season.

Conor Sheary
Sheary seemed to be on the verge of a huge season after accumulating 35 total points his sophomore season, just behind T.J. Syner for the team lead.  But that didn’t happen.  Sheary only had 27 total points this year with both his goals (11) and assists (16) declining from the previous year.  Like Pereira, Sheary was very quiet in the first half of the season, scoring just two goals before New Year’s Eve.  But he did end the year playing much better, something that hopefully bodes well for next year.  One area where I thought Sheary excelled was playing point on the power play, where he had five goals.

Evan Stack
Stack played four games early in the season and then suffered an injury.  He never played after that.  It was never reported if he missed the rest of the season due to the injury or coach’s decision.  It’s too bad because he was one of the more mature freshman and seemed like he may be able to contribute right away.  But it’s unknown what type of role he play next year.

Jeff Teglia
Teglia played in just one game this season, a start against Lowell in November that seemed both puzzling and cruel.  The team was playing pretty well at that point, beating UNH, narrowly losing to BC, shutting out Providence, and then tying Maine when Lowell came to town for a Sunday game.  For some reason Teglia got the start and the team in front of him was completely flat.  Three goals against and 16 minutes later and Teglia’s afternoon and season was done even though the loss was a total team effort.  I don’t think you can expect him to do anymore than backup Boyle and Mastalerz next season.

K.J. Tiefenwerth
Fans had high expectations for Tiefenwerth.  Here was a late addition to the recruiting class who had formerly committed to Boston College, was one of the top scorers in the EJHL, and had just spent the summer at Islanders Development Camp.  But he just never developed into an impact player.  In the end he had just two goals and four assists in 30 games, well below what many thought he would put up.  Why he didn’t put up more points is a mystery to me.  Hopefully we’ll see more next year.

Shane Walsh
Walsh was certainly the best freshman on the squad.  He had three goals and eight assists in 28 games.  He missed five games due to injury.  He played well offensively, picking up key goals throughout the season, but also did well defensively.  Walsh will have a key role as a two way forward next year and may even see some time on the top two lines.

Oleg Yevenko
Yevenko played much like he did his freshman year.  He was solid in a lot of games, though sometimes his skating or late reactions got him in trouble.  He still suffers for being so tall as every hit he throws is automatically elbowing in the eyes of the officials. All in all a solid year for him, though I had hope he would’ve developed a little more.

Coaching

Let’s face it, Coach Micheletto was charged with a very difficult task this season.  Hired in late July he had very little time to get situated in Amherst, assemble a staff, get to know his team, and then start the season.  He was further challenged with a tough schedule early in the season where he’d have to play defending champion Boston College twice, Boston University twice, and New Hampshire right out of the gate.  However, he did have some things in his favor.  First, he didn’t lose any players during the offseason despite a publicly mishandled coaching transition.  Second, the team returning to Amherst was a fairly veteran one with the junior class accounting for much of the key offensive and defensive players and two goaltenders with at least 10 collegiate starts under their belts each.

Micheletto did have some fine wins on the season, both literally and figuratively.  He led the program to just its second in-season tournament championship ever (against his alma mater no less).  He had a number of wins over ranked teams and even beat Boston College in Conte Forum which hadn’t happened in what seemed like forever.  In terms of the moves he made, some worked quite nicely as well.  Phillips moving to forward and having Sheary on the point on the power play worked out quite nicely.  Having faith in Olcyzk and Rowe brought some key wins to the team.  What stood out especially to me was the fine play from the special teams.  A number of times during the season the Minutemen were able to completely shut down some of the best power play units in the country.

But I think Mick had some serious misses as well.  Despite the promise for a more up-tempo style the team scored nearly a half a goal less than last year and struggled mightily at times five on five.  The decision to start Teglia that Sunday afternoon against Lowell puzzles me still and seemed to disrupt momentum the team was building.  I’ll never understand why Busillo wasn’t in the lineup on a regular basis, especially when all the numbers and my own eyes screamed for him to be in there.  And there were many times during the season when Micheletto looked very much like long time assistant turned rookie head coach.  Minor things like lineups, time outs, pulling goaltenders, and other in-game aspects seemed to be mismanaged.  But it’s a learning process for him just as it is for the players so those things are only a problem if we see them in the following years.

What worried me most about this season is the team played worse as the season went along.  Even if he took over the team last March there was going to be a learning curve as the players get used to him and his style early in the season.  That factor was exaggerated when he had to start in July instead.  So I guess I expected a disconnect between the players and staff in the Fall.  But from January on this team was just plain bad some nights.  Sometimes they looked completely disorganized as if none of the players had ever been on the ice together before.  It worries me that the more exposure the team had to the staff the worse their record became and the further they fell out of playoff contention.  It worries me that so many of the key players on the team like Pereira, Sheary, Hanley, and Guzzo had their numbers drop dramatically from the prior year.

Season Thoughts

This season was a disappointment.  The team had a lot going against them with the late coaching change and the circus that came with it and a tough early schedule.  But I think the talent was there to fight through that adversity and still compete in Hockey East.  This team should have at least made the playoffs.  This was a down year for the league with only three teams currently on track to make the NCAA tournament.  But despite that UMass could not finish among the top 8 for the first time in 11 seasons.  This team was likely not going to compete for home ice no matter who was coach, but a 9th place finish means the team underachieved.

So there’s my season recap.  Probably tomorrow I will be positing my thoughts on the current state of the program.  So please come back for that.

Here’s (if link works) an update on the team from the Gazette that also talks about next year’s schedule.

The Collegian takes a look at the season as well.

2013 FTT Awards

Time to hand out some hardware (if I actually had real hardware and it wouldn’t be considered some kind of booster violation by the NCAA to hand it out).

▲ Fear The Triangle Player of the Year

I try to make this one simple.  Win or lose I pick a player of the game when I write my recaps.  Sometime it’s an obvious choice, sometimes not so much.  Sometimes it’s dictated by stats, sometimes it could be something intangible I saw.  Sometimes it’s for a specific play or sometimes it’s for the entire effort.  For my Player of the Year Award I add up each of those individual Player of the Game awards and that’s the winner.  Luckily in the four years I’ve been doing this I’ve never had to break a tie.  And that’s the case this year as senior co-captain Rocco Carzo led all other players with five POTG honors.

As I mentioned in my post for the seniors, Carzo’s career at UMass has come full circle.  This season he was able to make huge contributions on offense while also playing the same solid defense that we saw the last two years.  His nine goals were 4th best on the team and also tied for 4th in terms of total points.  Those nine goals also matched the amount he had scored in his previous three years combined.  But it was his consistent two way play that really helped the Minutemen this year, regularly having to go up against the best opposing players.

Here was the final count of the 2012-13 Player of the Game selections:

Carzo 5
Pereira 4
Gracel 4
Mastalerz 4
Allen 3
Guzzo 2
Rowe 2
Boyle 2
Hanley 2
LaRue 2
Walsh 1
Power 1
Czepiel 1
Sheary 1

 

▲ Fear The Triangle Newcomer of the Year

My preseason pick for this award was K.J. Tiefenwerth given his production in the EJHL.  But junior league performance isn’t always the best judge of how a player will do in college and the fact that I’m choosing Shane Walsh for this award shows that.  It was unknown just what kind of impact Walsh would have when he got to UMass.  He didn’t put up a ton of points in the USHL (28 in 72 games) and it appeared that guys like Tiefenwerth and Evan Stack would be more likely to contribute right away.  But that wasn’t the case.  When Walsh hit the ice in the Fall he immediately looked like he belonged out there.  He got his first goal against Boston University in just his third game and the next time out assisted on Darren Rowe’s game winning goal versus New Hampshire.  He missed most of the games in November due to injury and even at that early point in his career his presence in the lineup was missed.  By the end of the year he was a key part of the power play and noticeably improved along the way.  All in all Walsh ended the year with three goals and eight assists, numbers he’ll be expected to build upon during his sophomore year.

▲ Fear The Triangle Breakout Player of the Year

Branden Gracel had already been an integral part of the UMass offense through his first two years, totaling 11 goals and 23 assists.  However I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the type of season he was going to have this past year.  He led the team in goals (14), assists (20), plus/minus (+7), game winning goals (3), and shots (104).  His total points were 6th best among Hockey East players and he was 9th in goal scoring.  And then we get to probably his best skill; faceoffs.  While his 59.5% faceoff winning percentage was technically second in the conference behind UNH’s John Henrion, Gracel was at the dot 682 times compared to Henrion’s 153.  Gracel’s 406 faceoff wins was 10th best in the country.  Gracel’s season was nothing short of spectacular and is the favorite to be named MVP when team awards are handed out next month.

I won’t be doing any more recruit updates as I want to concentrate on my season recap posts.  However I did want to point out something I noticed on Chris Heisenberg’s recruiting site.  All four of the recruits who committed to former coach Toot Cahoon are now designated to come to Amherst in 2014 or 2015.  Mark Hamilton and Mike Iovanna were previously designated on the site to arrive next fall while Willy Smith and Casey Miller were designated for 2014.  Obviously when a coaching change takes place the status of the recruits is put into flux.  I have heard that one recruit had his scholarship offer withdrawn and was invited to walk-on.  I’m not sure if that’s what is happening here with everyone and the players are being given time to decide if they want to take that option or go elsewhere.  Or they could be asked to play a year of juniors to prove themselves before the scholarship is confirmed.  We’ll see.  Also changing on the site is Dennis Kravchenko is now due in Amherst this fall.  Previously it said 2013 or 2014.

Dick Baker had this feature in the Republican on Holyoke’s Kevin Czepiel ending his UMass career.

Saturday Recap

Massachusetts had very little to play for yesterday.  They had already been eliminated from Hockey East playoff contention with Maine’s win and the heartbreaking overtime loss at Merrimack the night before.  And the challenges kept piling up for them before and during yesterday’s game.  They were already without star Mike Pereira who suffered a concussion last weekend.  Friday night senior Eddie Olcyzk hurt his shoulder and sadly wasn’t able to dress for his final game of his career.  Once the game started they suddenly found themselves short a defenseman when Mike Busillo received a game misconduct early on.  And in the second period leading scorer Branden Gracel left the game with an injury.  With all that against them and very little to play for, you could’ve expected the team to mail it in and just allow the season to end.  But they didn’t.  With nothing to play for but pride and sending the seniors out on a high note UMass not only showed up last night but dominated in a 3-0 win over Merrimack.

UMass was able to get on the board early in the first when senior co-captain Rocco Carzo made a great backhand pass across the slot from underneath the goal line that found it mark on Adam Phillips’ stick for the goal.  Just a few seconds later UMass would face their first test of adversity as Busillo picked up a contact to the head penalty for an open ice hit and the Minutemen were now without one of their defenseman.  Helping to offset that blueline loss for the rest of the game though was the fact that, due to so many other injuries, Anthony Raiola was dressed and playing as a forward.  He was able to slide back to defense as needed and help contribute to an excellent game by the defense as a whole.  Busillo’s major and an Oleg Yevenko penalty shortly after meant that the Warriors ended up with over six minutes straight of power play time, including some five on three advantage.  But the penalty kill was huge all night, not allowing a goal despite over 14 minutes of power play time for Merrimack.

At the end of the first Conor Sheary would jump on a redirected puck in front of the net and put it in the resulting open net.  In the second period Colin Shea got on the scoresheet with a shot from the point that deflected off a Merrimack stick into the near top corner of the net past Sam Marotta.  Later in that period Gracel would go down injured after being slammed into the boards by a Merrimack player.  Somehow there was no call on the play.  Coach Micheletto, like everyone else in the building, was pretty astounded at the no call and tried to get the officials to come over to talk to him by waiting to send out his next line.  As a result,  referees Chris Federico and Justin Greene assessed UMass with a delay of game penalty while still refusing to acknowledge Mick on the UMass bench.  I thought it was a good move by Mick.  The refs needed to address how Busillo was in the dressing room for an open ice hit while an obvious boarding that injured UMass’ best scorer went uncalled.  Gracel would try to play a couple more shifts that period but by the third period he was not on the bench.

With the officials not doing their job, the Minutemen felt they needed to take matters into their own hands and the third period ended up very chippy.  Conor Allen picked up three penalties in the period alone.  Luckily the game got physical but didn’t get out of control.  Even while picking up penalties and crushing Warriors the Minutemen still controlled play and outshot Merrimack 14-10 in the final period.  On the other end Steve Mastalerz remained perfect on the night and stopped all 24 shots he faced for his second career shutout.

And that’s how the UMass season ended.  Even knowing there would be no game and with an easy excuse of injuries available, the team went out and had one of their better games of the season.  I have to say I was really proud of the heart they showed to go out and win in that fashion.  With the win over UNH last fall and capturing the Ledyard Classic, I’d have say last night was one of the best games of the year.

After the game it was time to celebrate the careers of Rocco Carzo, Kevin Czepiel, Darren Rowe, and Eddie Olczyk.  The senior ceremony was different this year, coming after the game rather than before.  I wish the entire crowd had stayed for it, but a good number of the 4,500 did.  Those who stayed got to see a montage of the players’ highlights as well as pictures of them as kids.  They also got to see just how much being a UMass hockey player means to these guys.  Eddie Olczyk, who dressed in full gear for the ceremony despite being injured, displayed tremendous emotion when he was honored.  It was a good reminder of the dedication and love these guys have for the game and for UMass.  And it was an uplifting way to end the season.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
Yesterday was a total team win.  Everyone contributed, from the guys who scored the goals to the hard hits that came later to stand up for Gracel.  But a shutout seems worthy of the POTG honors and it capped off a stretch of games where Mastalerz looked very good in net.

Highlights from UMass Athletics

Dick Baker has the game story for the Republican.

Mike McMahon has his takeaways from College Hockey News.

Late news today is that Boston University’s Jack Parker will announce his retirement.  I’m sure I don’t have to take the time to list his overwhelming accomplishments during his coaching career on Comm Ave.  Best wishes to him in his retirement.  The guy is a legend.

So that’s it.  Season’s over, unfortunately a little sooner than we all wanted.  I’m not done yet though.  I still have a little more writing in me before I pull the plug on this place.  Tomorrow I’ll unveil my awards for the season.  Later in the week I’ll post my season recap as well as my thoughts on the state of the program.

Friday Recap; UMass Eliminated From Playoff Contention

For the first time since 2002 Massachusetts hockey will not be part of the Hockey East playoffs.  Last night’s 4-3 overtime loss to Merrimack combined with Maine’s win over New Hampshire locks UMass into a disappointing 9th place finish for the season.

UMass was almost able to overcome a 2-0 deficit with three goals late in the third period, but Merrimack’s Connor Toomey would end up picking up the game winner 1:45 into overtime.  The game started out a lot like the last time the teams played in North Andover.  The Warriors put a ton of shots on the UMass goaltender, this time being Steve Mastalerz who was able to make the start in his hometown.  Merrimack would get 19 shots on goal in the first and Mastalerz kept UMass in the game by stopping 18 of them.  The players in front of him did a much better job in the following periods however, both in terms of defense and puck possession, and were able to limit Merrimack to just 13 shots for the rest of regulation.

Merrimack would take a 2-0 lead early in the third and things looked dire, especially with Maine leading up in Durham.  But the coaching staff was monitoring the scores and pulled Mastalerz for an extra attacker with over five minutes left and UMass on the power play.  Shane Walsh would find the back of the net with just under four minutes left but the Warriors scored almost immediately to regain the two goal lead.  Conor Sheary would answer with a power play goal under a minute later to again bring the Minutemen within one.  Senior Rocco Carzo would end up being the hero by tying it with just 41 seconds left.  However in overtime Merrimack, fighting for home ice, would not be satisfied with just a tie, and attacked UMass from the start.  1:45 into the extra frame UMass’ playoff hopes ended.

I admire the fact that the team did not give up last night.  I wish they could’ve played the beginning of the game with the same kind of energy and desperation they showed at the end.  But with their backs truly against the wall they responded and almost pulled off the late game heroics.  But they came up short.  In terms of both the game and the season.  I’ll get more into my thoughts about missing the playoffs for the first time in 11 years next week when I wrap up the season (and the blog).  But for now I’d just like to ask that if you can make it to the Mullins Center tonight, please do.  It will be the last time to watch UMass hockey until next October, a chance to thank the team for their hard work this season, and the opportunity to salute the seniors for their contributions over the past four years.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Rocco Carzo
The senior co-captain’s late goal extended UMass’ playoff chances, if only for another couple minutes.

The Republican recap.

College Hockey News’ coverage.

Merrimack Preview

Merrimack College Warriors 14-14-6 (12-10-3) Hockey East 6th

vs

Massachusetts Minutemen 11-18-3 (8-15-2) Hockey East 9th

Massachusetts enters the final weekend of the regular season and if they want to keep playing beyond they’ll need to get at least a point and then get some help.  UMass can get away with just a tie of Merrimack but they’d then need New Hampshire to sweep Maine up in Durham.  While UNH is clearly the better team I wouldn’t rule out something flukey happening in this weekend’s chapter of that storied rivalry.  Whatever transpires, UMass must get at least one more point than Maine in this weekend’s games.  That would leave the two teams tied and the Minutemen would move on to the playoffs by virtue of having more conference wins.

It’s not going to be easy to get any points however from this Warrior team.  The teams met last month in North Andover in an oddly close, but dominant win by the Warriors.  UMass could not generate any offense during the game, only testing goaltender Sam Marotta 18 times.  But, they were able to keep the game close and were tied at two apiece going into the third before ultimately falling 4-2.  Kevin Boyle played fantastic, making 37 saves including 17 in the first period alone.  It didn’t matter though and the game was the most recent of a long line of losses at Lawler where UMass hasn’t won since spring of 2008.

The Warriors are not as hot a team as they were when they last faced UMass though.  In fact they’re winless in their last five, losing their last four.  Since scoring four against the Minutemen they haven’t managed to score more than two goals against anyone else and were shutout last Friday by Lowell.  The recent slump has coincided with leading scorer Mike Collins going cold.  Collins has more than twice as many goals as anyone else on the team with 15 but hasn’t found the back of the net since the game against the Minutemen.  The team is 12-6-3 when he registers a point and 2-8-3 when he doesn’t.

Marotta got the win against the Minutemen and seemed to have grabbed hold of the starter job back in January.  But Rasmus Tirronen got the most recent start in a loss to Lowell.  Honestly, the losing streak hasn’t been the fault of Marotta and I’d assume he’ll play both games this weekend.  Other than a poor game against BU where he got pulled after surrendering three goals in a period, he has only allowed two goals in each of the other games during this winless streak

In addition to who is on the ice this weekend, another huge factor may end up being who is not.  Merrimack will be without the services of key defenseman Kyle Bigos, who will be missing his own senior night tomorrow because of the number of game misconducts he has picked up this season.  Unfortunately I would rather he be gone for the game at the Mullins as I think the Warriors can more easily adjust for his absence on the smaller Lawler ice.  The other player whose participation is in question is Mike Pereira, who left the UNH game early after absorbing a hard hit.  It is unknown if he’ll dress this weekend and UMass may have to make due without their most productive player in recent weeks.

It all comes down to this. Two games.  I could talk about what strategies UMass could use to defeat Merrimack.  Opine about the adjustments needed from recent play.  But it really comes down to motivation.  Will the team be motivated to get the necessary points to extend their season?  Can they extend the program’s playoff streak to 11 years?  Will they allow the four seniors the chance to put the UMass jersey on at least a couple more times after Saturday?  We’ll see.

Speaking of the seniors, the annual ceremony honoring them is changing a bit this year.  It will take place AFTER the game, not before.  This is similar to how it’s done up in Maine.  So please make sure to stick around until then and take the chance to thank them for their dedication and commitment to UMass.

Beer The Triangle
One of the many recent snowstorms forced the rescheduling of the last game at Merrimack and postponed my trip to The Tap in Haverhill.  That will be corrected tomorrow and I’m desperately hoping they still have Snowbound on draft.  Saturday will be the last pregame at the Hangar on the season.  However I have to find a way to get across the street to Amherst Brewing Company as well as they have a keg of 2011 Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine on.  One of my favorite barleywines.

Preview from the Republican says it’s all about the process.  Daily Collegian preview says it’s about poise.  But both talk about Rocco Carzo’s eating habits.

He doesn’t have anything up currently, but Mike McMahon is sure to have some good information and perspective on the Mack Report.

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